Red Cloud was the childhood home of Willa Cather, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, and it is known throughout the world as the setting for her six Nebraska novels and numerous short stories. Her legacy lives on in today, and is present in the rich array of cultural and artistic activities and events that are available in Red Cloud and Guide Rock. To learn more about Willa Cather, her works, and her life, visit the website of The Willa Cather Foundation.
Willa Cather Childhood Home
Photo by Barb Kudrna
World famous author Willa Sibert Cather (1873-1947) moved with her family from Virginia to the Red Cloud area in 1883. Many of her best known writings deal with life in the Red Cloud vicinity. The Cather House, in which she lived from1884 to 1890, figures prominently in The Song of the Lark, "The Best Years," and "Old Mrs. Harris." This house, located in Red Cloud, is the most important Nebraska building associated with her literary career.
In 1884, the Red Cloud Chief gave this detailed description of the inside of the church. "It was one of the neatest and most complete in finish of any building of this kind in the valley. Entering the door on the northwest corner, one finds himself in a vestibule in the base of the tower. Opening to the right hand is a door leading to the church parlor, which has a seating capacity of about 300 people. As you enter the auditorium you face the pulpit, choir and baptistery at the further end of the building. The seating capacity can be nearly doubled by throwing back the doors with which the parlor and auditorium are connected. The interior of the building is of a style entirely different from anything we have seen in this part of the state and is very pleasing in all part of the eye to look upon."
Depots in general played a significant role in Willa Cather's writings.The original two-story section of the depot, constructed in 1897, is the building Cather was familiar with during her last years in Red Cloud. Red Cloud was on the main line of the Burlington and Missouri between Kansas City and Denver. At one time eight passenger trains passed through town daily, making the Red Cloud Depot a busy and exciting place.
St. Juliana Falconieri Catholic Church
St. Juliana Falconieri Catholic Church is the church that Annie Pavelka, "Antonia," was married in and where her illegitimate child was baptized. Architecturally the church is a significant vernacular structure, a fine specimen of modest church architecture for the period and, aside from the depot, the most impressive architectural feature of South Red Cloud.
Farmer's and Merchant's Bank Building
Built in 1888-89 it is also known as the Garber Bank. The bank was organized by Silas Garber, who was its first president. Willa Cather was long a personal friend of the Garber's and eventually used them as prototypes for Captain and Mrs. Forrester in A Lost Lady. The bank is used in two of Cather's other writings, the short story, "Two Friends," and the novel, Lucy Gayheart.
Grace Protestant Episcopal Church
Willa Cather was brought up in the Baptist Church, but became a member of Grace Church in 1922. The altar rail was dedicated in memory of Willa's brother, Douglas, and Willa, herself, dedicated two of the stained glass windows - one to her mother and one to her father.
Built ca. 1878, the Miner house is one of the finest, large historic houses in Red Cloud. Although a more simplified, vernacular interpretation of the Italianate style, the house is the salient example of the style in Red Cloud. Willa Cather's first playmate in Red Cloud was Mary Miner. Cather became friends with all of the Miner children, but especially Carrie. She wrote to Carrie regularly throughout her life and her book My Antonia is dedicated "To Carrie and Irene Miner, In memory of affections old and true."